Today in AP Biology class, my slightly wacky teacher (who indulges in quirky ties and is trying to not repeat one until the new year), decided to bring up a discussion about cloning. It was perfectly on topic; we’ve been studying Biotechnology and the mechanics of cloning, and he wanted us to know the ethical issues that go along with our scientifically advanced lives. But what began as a simple discussion exploded into a full-blown debate, with a clear divide in the views of our class.
First, we talked about Dolly. We all know about Dolly the sheep, the first large mammal to be cloned. My teacher explained how Dolly’s mother was six years old when her DNA was given to a new egg, so that when Dolly was born, she was physically a newborn, but with the DNA of a six year old sheep. Sheep have short life spans, usually of about twelve years. This means that newborn Dolly was born middle-aged! She had bad arthritis in her hips at the time when she should have been physically spry. And when she was six years old, Dolly died.
Now we started speaking hypothetically; let’s say a very wealthy man wants to clone himself in case he ever needs an organ transplant. He makes five clones of himself when he is twenty-five, and raises them in a lab-like environment where they remain, never seeing the world. Therefore, when the original man is fifty, his clones will all be twenty-five. If the man starts having problems with his liver from a life-long struggle with alcohol, he can just transplant one of his clones livers into his and have a younger, healthier organ.
Here come the ethics. What rights does a clone have? Immediately my reaction to that question was, “The same as any human!” Aren’t clones essentially the same thing as conjoined or identical twins; two separate people with the same DNA? We argued the difference between someone created with sexual reproduction and someone created for scientific purposes, and I brought up the “My Sister’s Keeper” argument. (Of you haven’t read this book by Jodi Picoult, you probably should. It is about a girl who was born to be a genetic match to donate bone marrow to her sister, who is dying of cancer.) There was also the inquiry of nature vs. nurture. Would the clones still be the same people if they were brought up in different environments? Leading scientific research says so, and experiments have been done separating twins at birth and watching their developmental differences in dissimilar environments. Yes, they have the same genetic code. But nurture and environment creates completely separate people. And personally I believe that this is the same with clones. Though born from the same mold, they grow into their own people with thoughts and views and personalities. Just because the nature of their creation was scientific does not invalidate their rights as humans. But there are no laws protecting the rights of clones; there have been no need for them in the past. As biotechnology progresses, and in our near future, there may be a need for these types of laws. Presently it is still in debate.
So, what do you think? Do clones have rights? Are they people? What verity is there in the Nature vs. nurture debate? Does the clones right debate tie in with the abortion debate?